WASHINGTON― There was a time in the early 1990s when it was considered cool for a woman to be so skinny her tights looked baggy around her legs.
As magazines glamorized the “heroin chic” look, women’s health suffered. It was estimated that more than half of American women ages 10-30 were battling an eating disorder, and in the U.K., the incidence of bulimia tripled between 1988 and 1993.
Around the same time, a rich New York businessman named Donald Trump was body-shaming his wife, Ivana, while carrying on an affair with a thin 26-year-old model. Ivana Trump reportedly blamed herself, telling a New York Daily News columnist that her husband wouldn’t touch her because she was less attractive after giving birth to their daughter.
“She threw herself into my arms, sobbing and crying and saying, ‘Donald doesn’t want me anymore. He has told me he can’t be sexually attracted to a woman who has had children,’” columnist Liz Smith recently recalled to PBS.
According to a 1990 Vanity Fair story, Ivana Trump underwent a face-lift and breast augmentation to try to appeal to her husband, but he continued to body-shame her while he was seeing Marla Maples:
He began belittling her: “That dress is terrible.” “You’re showing too much cleavage.” “You never spend enough time with the children.” “Who would touch those plastic breasts?” Ivana told her friends that Donald had stopped sleeping with her. She blamed herself.
In 1996, when Trump owned the Miss Universe pageant, he called Venezuelan contestant Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” because he thought she’d gained too much weight after winning the Miss Universe crown. Machado said the insults caused her to develop a severe eating disorder, like many other women who resorted to desperate measures to meet society’s beauty standards.
Twenty years later, it’s no longer cool to be deathly thin or acceptable to shame women’s bodies. This year, a “plus-size” model landed the cover of Sports Illustrated’s notorious swimsuit issue, in a first for the magazine. Women are proudly sharing photos of their soft, stretch-marked, post-baby bellies on social media to inspire other women to feel good about themselves, and those posts are going viral for the right reasons. Celebrities are posting less flattering, un-retouched photos of themselves next to their magazine covers to remind people that photoshopped bodies aren’t real.
But none of this has changed Donald Trump’s fat-shaming tendencies. As Americans embrace an unprecedented body positivity movement, the nation is also potentially weeks away from electing a president who viciously and unapologetically criticizes women’s bodies.
“She was the worst we ever had,” Trump said of Miss Universe winner Machado this week, echoing his “Miss Piggy” comments from two decades ago. “She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”
In a 2013 interview, the GOP presidential nominee said that Kim Kardashian had gotten “a little bit large” and shouldn’t be dressing like she weighed 120 pounds. He reportedly told managers at Trump National Golf Club that the restaurant hostesses “should be fired and replaced with more attractive women.” And during Monday’s presidential debate, he defended himself for calling comedian Rosie O’Donnell “fat” and a “slob.”
“Somebody who has been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell ― I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her,” Trump said.
Women are not impressed. Republican strategists are frustrated that Trump squandered a chance to pick up suburban female voters ― a demographic whose support he needs to win. And more than a dozen Republican-leaning women in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, told The New York Times that Trump’s name-calling and fat-shaming of women is a huge turn-off, suggesting that he may even lose some female supporters.
“That is embarrassing,” said Kim Gray, a Trump backer in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “I have a daughter. I have a son who’d never speak like that.”
Women’s votes matter: President Barack Obama defeated his GOP opponent Mitt Romney in 2012 thanks partly to overwhelming support from women. While there was a historic gender gap in that election, the gender gap in 2016 is shaping up to be even more extreme: A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Clinton leading by 19 points among women and Trump leading by 19 points among men. But women tend to turn out to the polls in greater numbers: In 2012, female voters made up 53 percent of the electorate. Similar numbers this year could spell trouble for Trump.
“I know this may be hard for you to comprehend,” actress Dawn Neufeld tweeted on Wednesday, “but it’s not okay to publicly fat-shame people when you’re running for president (or ever).”